Looking for a roadmap to find your way through these years? Here are some tips:
Read books about teenagers. Think back on your own teen years. Remember your struggles with acne or your embarrassment at developing early — or late.
Expect some mood changes in your typically sunny child, and be prepared for more conflict as he or she matures as an individual. Parents who know what’s coming can cope with it better. And the more you know, the better you can prepare.
Talk to Your Child Early Enough
Talking about menstruation or wet dreams after they’ve already started means you’re too late. Answer the early questions kids have about bodies, such as the differences between boys and girls and where babies come from.
But don’t overload them with information — just answer their questions. If you don’t know the answers, help them find someone who does, like a trusted friend or your pediatrician.
You know your kids. You can hear when your child’s starting to tell jokes about sex or when attention to personal appearance is increasing. This is a good time to jump in with your own questions such as:
Are you noticing any changes in your body?
Are you having any strange feelings?
Are you sad sometimes and don’t know why?
A yearly physical exam is a great time to bring up these things. A doctor can tell your preadolescent — and you — what to expect in the next few years. An exam can serve as a jumping-off point for a good parent/child discussion.
The later you wait to have this discussion, the more likely your child will be to form misconceptions or become embarrassed about or afraid of physical and emotional changes.
Furthermore, the earlier you open the lines of communication, the better chance you have of keeping them open through the teen years. Give your child books on puberty written for kids going through it. Share memories of your own adolescence. There’s nothing like knowing that Mom or Dad went through it, too, to put a child more at ease.
Put Yourself in Your Child’s Place
Practice empathy by helping your child understand that it’s normal to be a bit concerned or self-conscious, and that it’s OK to feel grown-up one minute and like a kid the next.
Pick Your Battles
If teenagers want to dye their hair, paint their fingernails black, or wear funky clothes, think twice before you object. Teens want to shock their parents and it’s a lot better to let them do something temporary and harmless; leave the objections to things that really matter, like tobacco, drugs and alcohol, or permanent changes to their appearance.
Ask why your teen wants to dress or look a certain way and try to understand how your teen is feeling. You might also want to discuss how others might perceive them if they look different — help your teen understand how he or she might be viewed.
Teens will likely act unhappy with expectations their parents place on them. However, they usually understand and need to know that their parents care enough about them to expect certain things such as good grades, acceptable behavior, and adherence to the rules of the house. If parents have appropriate expectations, teens will likely try to meet them. Without reasonable expectations, your teen may feel you don’t care about him or her.
Inform Your Teen – and Stay Informed Yourself
The teen years often are a time of experimentation, and sometimes that experimentation includes risky behaviors. Don’t avoid the subjects of sex, or drug, alcohol, and tobacco use; discussing these things openly with kids before they’re exposed to them increases the chance that they’ll act responsibly when the time comes. Share your family values with your teen and talk about what you believe is right and wrong.
Know your child’s friends — and know their friends’ parents. Regular communication between parents can go a long way toward creating a safe environment for all teens in a peer group. Parents can help each other keep track of the kids’ activities without making the kids feel that they’re being watched.
Know the Warning Signs
A certain amount of change may be normal during the teen years, but too drastic or long-lasting a switch in personality or behavior may signal real trouble — the kind that needs professional help. Watch for one or more of these warning signs:
extreme weight gain or loss
rapid, drastic changes in personality
sudden change in friends
skipping school continually
talk or even jokes about suicide
signs of tobacco, alcohol, or drug use
run-ins with the law
Any other inappropriate behavior that lasts for more than 6 weeks can be a sign of underlying trouble, too. You may expect a glitch or two in your teen’s behavior or grades during this time, but your A/B student shouldn’t suddenly be failing, and your normally outgoing kid shouldn’t suddenly become constantly withdrawn. Your doctor or a local counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist can help you find proper counseling.
Respect Kids’ Privacy
Some parents, understandably, have a very hard time with this one. They may feel that anything their kids do is their business. But to help your teen become a young adult, you’ll need to grant some privacy. If you notice warning signs of trouble, then you can invade your child’s privacy until you get to the heart of the problem. But otherwise, it’s a good idea to back off.
In other words, your teenager’s room, texts, e-mails, and phone calls should be private. You also shouldn’t expect your teen to share all thoughts or activities with you at all times. Of course, for safety reasons, you should always know where teens are going, when they’ll be returning, what they’re doing, and with whom, but you don’t need to know every detail. And you definitely shouldn’t expect to be invited along!
Start with trust. Let your teen know that you trust him or her. But, if the trust gets broken he or she may enjoy fewer freedoms until the trust is rebuilt.
Monitor What Kids See and Read
TV shows, magazines and books, the Internet — kids have access to tons of information. Be aware of what yours watch and read. Don’t be afraid to set limits on the amount of time spent in front of the computer or the TV.
Know what they’re learning from the media and who they may be communicating with online.
Teens shouldn’t have unlimited access to TV or the Internet in private — these should be public activities. Access to technology should also be limited after certain hours (say 10 PM or so) to encourage adequate sleep. It’s not unreasonable to have cell phones and computers off limits after a certain time.
Make Appropriate Rules
Bedtime for a teenager should be age appropriate, just as it was when your child was a baby. Teens still need about 8-9 hours of sleep. Reward your teen for being trustworthy. Does your child keep to a 10 PM curfew on weekends? Move it to 10:30 PM. And does a teen always have to go along on family outings? Encourage a reasonable amount of family time together.
Decide what your expectations are, and don’t be insulted when your growing child doesn’t always want to be with you. Think back: You probably felt the same way about your mom and dad.
Will This Ever Be Over?
As kids progress through the teen years, you’ll notice a slowing of the highs and lows of adolescence. And, eventually, they’ll become independent, responsible, communicative young adults.
So remember the motto of many parents with teens: We’re going through this together, and we’ll come out of it — together!